Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you (Deuteronomy 32:7).
My mother always called it Decoration Day. The high school band always led the way to the cemetery where a speech was made. The speech always ended with the words: “They have not died in vain!”
I always wondered why some people cried.
As a child, it was an exciting day. School was over. Summer was starting. Why would someone be sad?
Later, I learned. Some of my friends who watched the parade marching to the cemetery later marched to war. Some returned with broken bodies and some with broken minds. Some now lie silently in that same cemetery. If they could hear, they would note the words, “They have not died in vain.”
I have learned it is not a day for looking ahead to happy times. It’s a time to look back and remember. It is rightly called Memorial Day. It’s all about remembering loss.
In 1868 General John Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30th for the 650,000 Americans who died during the Civil War. WWI cost America 116,708 deaths, including 43,000 who fell in the attacks by Spanish Flu.
There was a brigade surgeon who looked out over the field where chlorine gas was released for the first time in war. 87,000 Allied Soldiers died there and another 37,000 who fought for the Kaiser. The doctor’s best friend was among them. Remembering a cluster of red poppies growing among the dead, he later penned the famous poem beginning with: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow beneath the crosses, row on row.” The wearing of a poppy became the mark of those remembering those lost to war.
Much has changed since those days. More names have been added to the list of the lost. Yet, it seems the day for remembering has become more of a holiday than a solemn observance.
Some are eager to move on to the future. “The past,” they say, “is past.” What good does it do to go back over what we cannot change? Why remember?
Those who have only a memory left of their loved ones might answer: “We cannot forget. We don’t want others to forget.”
At the 1945 dedication of the Fifth Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, Chaplain Gittelsohn said this: “We memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us.”
We think of words from God: “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.”
Then he tells us how to do this: “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”
The younger do not understand. They must learn from the older. They need to be taught the true cause of war and the only source of peace. True understanding comes only when they learn that God the Father lost his Son in the battle for our eternal life! That war is now over. It is time to remember the victory. A cross became his memorial marker. But no body lies beneath it. That marker points to an empty grave. These are reminders of the life never-ending and the peace never-broken that he has won.
If remembering loss can lead us to remembering Christ, Memorial Day will have served us well.
For truly, it can be said of him, “He did not die in vain.”
We pray: Almighty Father, strong to save, hear us when we call to you for mercy upon our fatherland. Remind us of our shortcomings, tell us of our sins. Call forth an army of those who are older to explain to the younger the blessings you have showered upon our nation. Let them see that the cost of freedom is counted in the number of lives that were lost. Comfort those who are remembering loss during these days and bless those who have left friends behind to march to war. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer
WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military